Dive into our classroom exercises to improve school climate

[Part two of three blog posts]

What is the state of your school climate right now? It can be a mixed bag at this time of year. Lots of students (and teachers) are in a celebratory mood with social gatherings and the anticipation of a long holiday break ahead. However, students without a close-knit group of friends or big vacation plans may feel like they’re coming up short.

One way to help students address feelings of isolation or negativity is to create opportunities for them to connect with other students or reframe their circumstances and experiences.

Following are four social and emotional learning exercises that can help with that. If you’d like to learn more about school climate, see what we’ve shared on our website. Our friends at the National School Climate Center (NSCC) also have lots of publications and research on the topic.

If you haven’t yet read the first post of our three-part series, we are profiling 12 classroom exercises for the season. We’ve added the first four activities to our running list at the end of this post. These have been chosen from the activities that are always featured on our website, and you can use them any time of the year.

All of our exercises were developed in collaboration with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and they map to CASEL competencies for social and emotional learning. You don’t have to do any of these activities in a specific order. Feel free to skip around!

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Classroom activities:

Meaningful Photos
You’ll need to assemble a few materials for this exercise because students will be creating a collage of photos. The purpose is for students to identify items, people, and places that have meaning to them; reflect on those meanings (verbally and in writing); and share those with their peers. Note: let students know a few days ahead of time about this exercise so they can take or prep photos in advance. Activity time: 60 minutes

This short activity is designed to encourage tolerance and demonstrate that everyone has different value systems. Students will be asked to take a stance on specific statements (that you prepare) and align with other students who share their ideas and then explain their viewpoints to the class. They will likely form new groups for every question and answer as they discover other students who agree with them on various issues. Activity time: 15-60 minutes

“I Wonder” Ball
This exercise requires a ball as a prop (one you can write on) and includes three lists of eight questions each—we’ve provided some or you can create your own. When a student catches the ball, they answer a question (from a prepared list) that corresponds to a number written on the ball. The goal is to get students thinking critically about their attitudes, beliefs and goals in a non-judgmental way to develop a sense of connection to themselves and their peers. Activity time: 60 minutes

“I Am” Poem
Students will create an autobiographical poem (within parameters you suggest) and then you will read them anonymously to the class, asking students to contribute one thing they could say or do to help that anonymous writer feel more safe and comfortable. As a class, you can discuss how this process helps everyone to better understand and accept others. Activity time: 10 minutes

We’ll feature the next four in our final post of the season!

Recap of activities one through eight: 

  1. Rose – Bud – Thorn
  2. Seven Questions
  3. Motivational Self-Talk Book
  4. Speed Dating with Purpose
  5. Meaningful Photos
  6. Continuum
  7. “I Wonder” Ball
  8. “I Am” Poem